9 holiday gift ideas for seniors

(MoneyWatch) I've always had trouble buying Christmas gifts for people who've already had a full life of being naughty and nice. What can you give them that they haven't already bought for themselves? As people get older, toys and other entertaining gifts just don't have the same attraction as they do for a 5-year-old.

And now that I'm in that older age demographic myself, my challenges have doubled. I'm still pondering the right gifts to get my mother and other older friends and relatives, but now my kids are asking what my wife and I want for Christmas.

To help answer this perpetual stumper, I consulted with smarter shoppers than I: my wife and her friends. Although I was looking for just a few great ideas, we got carried away and came up with 18 nifty gifts for the older crowd. (This post lists nine ideas for gifts under $50; my next post will offers nine more ideas for higher-priced items. Both lists contain a variety of items that can help with the security and enjoyment of your retirement years.

1. A gift membership to AARP. The monthly magazine and newsletters from the retirement organization, formerly officially known as the American Association of Retired Persons, contain a treasure trove of good information on finance, health and lifestyle -- this alone is worth the $16 annual membership fee. In addition, there's a host of discounts available for a variety of products, as well as links to many helpful services.

2. Subscription to Netflix. Your giftee can use the online video service to stream movies or TV shows to their home. As a bonus, you also might perform an invaluable service for an older relative or friend by showing them how to get started with and use the service.

3. DVD of a favorite movie of older audiences. Recent winners in this informal category have been "The Bucket List," "Up" (a great gift from my daughter a few Christmases ago) and "Hope Springs." Or what about a classic? "Singing in the Rain," "The Sound of Music," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," and the Star Wars and Lord of the Ring series are all enjoyable and watchable over and over again. Another idea -- a children's favorite that can be watched with grandchildren, such as "The Princess Bride" or any of the Disney animated movies.

4. Photo souvenirs of grandchildren. These can include coffee mugs with kids' photos on them, framed pictures or customized calendars. These are easy to design and to order online.

5. A favorite toy or game from the recipient's youth. Think Lincoln Logs, Pick-Up Sticks, yo-yo or top, Hula Hoop, Frisbee, jigsaw puzzle, or games like Scrabble or Monopoly. In other words, something without an on/off switch and definitely nothing digital. Your giftees will be able to invite the grandkids over to play, which will make them happy and feel young.

6. CDs of popular childhood songs that they can take them with them when they're visiting younger relatives, like grandchildren or great nieces and nephews, and sing along with. Think "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" or "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider." This will put a smile on their face -- and on the children's. Smiling often is good for their health and longevity.

Priceless

7: A donation in the name of your relative or friend to his or her favorite charity. For those people you know who really don't need or want anything, a donation to their favorite charity, made in their name, is a thoughtful gift.

8. Fulfilling a long-held dream. Have you ever heard your friend or relative say wistfully, "I've always wanted to ...." Why not help make their dream come true? Years ago, my son reintroduced me to aikido, a martial art I'd studied in college, as he'd often heard how I wanted to study it again. Now I've enjoyed aikido for 15 years and can't thank him enough for getting me to try it again.

9. Coupons for rides. If your relative or friend can't drive anymore, then giving coupons for rides for excursions can be a great gift. This can be a particularly valued gift from a teenage grandchild, as it also will give them time together.

I'm sure you have many more great ideas for the older person on your list. Please help our readers by telling us about your favorite Christmas gift ideas in the comment section below -- both for gifts you've given and gifts you've received.

Make someone happy this Christmas!

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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